Barry Zito gets hit hard by righty batters. The Cardinals' righty-heavy lineup mauls lefty pitching. Those facts set up a grim scenario for Zito last night as he sought to keep San Francisco alive in Game 5 of the NLCS. So, naturally, he worked deep into the eighth inning with nary a run allowed. Wait, what?
Zito tossed 7.2 scoreless innings, striking out six Cardinals hitters and walking none unintentionally. The lefty showed a marksman's touch, throwing 73 of 111 pitches (not including the intentional walk to Pete Kozma) for strikes. Zito threw quality strikes, as his heat map from last night attests:
Zito's pitch location against St. Louis in Game 5
Zito left just 18% of his pitches over the horizontal middle of the strike zone, compared to the 24% average for left-handed starting pitchers. Avoiding that spot is crucial, as Zito (.566 slugging percentage allowed on middle pitches) gets crushed when he catches too much of the plate.
Kudos, Barry Zito, for displaying ace-like control and command, and for reminding us why October baseball is magical, mystifying and humbling.